Not everyone will be happy to see you lose weight. Not everyone who is unhappy about it will be direct and tell you so. Many will try to sabotage your weight loss either by attacking your self-esteem or attacking your weight loss plan. People will do this for various reasons ranging from jealousy to insecurity to downright ignorance. Regardless, if you aren't prepared for these attacks, they can prove effective by breaking your spirit and poisoning your enthusiasm. So let's look at the kind of people who will try to make you fail, the sorts of attacks they render and, above all, the way you can defend yourself against them.
Types of Weight Loss Sabotage:
1. "You're doing THAT DIET? It doesn't work"
a. This sort of attack usually comes from the self-appointed weight-loss "expert" who is either jealous or wants to sell you something. The attack has many variations including:
i. "My sister tried that diet and she gained back more than she lost"
ii. "You're on a diet AGAIN?"
iii. "Doctor "so-and-so" (on television) said THAT diet is stupid"
iv. "You can't lose weight unless you do (fill in the blank)"
v. "You're wasting your time, but have you heard about "product-X"? I am a distributor and it really works."
b. At any rate, the basic idea behind the attack is make you doubt the weight loss plan you are following.
2. "THAT DIET will kill you!"
a. This is a variation on attack number 1, but instead of merely failing, the "diet expert" now wants to convince you that your health or even your life is at stake.
3. "You look bad. Are you sick?"
a. This attack aims to convince you to stay heavy because you have already "lost enough" or "too much" (when you actually haven't). This type of attack often comes either from jealous people or from legitimately concerned friends or family who have grown so accustomed to seeing you look a certain way (heavy) that your weight loss frightens them.
4. "You lost a hundred pounds? Hmm, you look the same to me":
a. This is the opposite of attack number three. The goal here is to convince you that no matter how much weight you lose, you'll always look "fat". This attack aims to convince you that nothing you can do is ever good enough. It is a classic and very nasty "passive-aggressive" attack.
b. A variation of this attack doesn't attempt to deny your weight loss but to denigrate it. It goes something like this: "Sure you lost weight, but that just brings out your wrinkles and saggy skin. Some people shouldn't try to lose weight."
5. "I'm so "happy" for you. Let's go to Baskin-Robbins to "celebrate""
a. This is classic sabotage.It can happen for a lot of reasons including jealousy, insecurity and sometimes simply from a failure to understand good eating habits. Sources of this attack can include:
i. Co-workers who suddenly start bring doughnuts to work every morning
ii. Spouses who start buying ice cream or chocolates on a regular basis.
iii. Friends who want to "meet for lunch" at restaurants serving only rich food.
6. "You're not the same person since you started losing weight"
a. Spouses, close friends and family are the usual sources of this sort of criticism. This is the only one of the attacks that often does have some truth behind it. You may truly no longer be quite the same person you used to be when you start losing weight. First of all, weight loss requires focus and seriousness of purpose that many people can mistake for hostility. Second, as your self-esteem grows, you may naturally become more assertive and more willing to ask for or even sometimes demand things that you used to deny yourself. People can misinterpret this as "crabbiness" or even, if they are very insecure themselves, as a sign that you no longer like or even love them anymore. The great danger for you is that someone who is normally an ally and a source of support for you can become estranged from you. We'll talk more about how to deal with this sort of issue later.
7. "I am more attracted to you when you are heavy"
a. This is not really an attack, but a statement of fact for some spouses. Indeed, beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Generally when a spouse tells you that he or she likes you "heavy", you are hearing the truth. Sometimes of course, it's just insecurity, but usually, and especially when it is said with obvious sincerity, it's the plain truth. But what to do about it? Obviously you have chosen weight loss for your own reasons; for your health and your own sense of how you want your body to look and in the end, it is, of course, your health and your body and nobody else's. This will be covered more later.
Types of "Attackers"
Now that we have covered a few kinds of attacks on your weight loss, let's look at the sorts of people who are likely to level such attacks.
1. Jealous co-workers:
2. Spouses and romantic partners
Motivations of Weight-Loss Saboteurs:
1. Jealousy: Jealousy is a negative emotional reaction to an anticipated loss of something desirable. That may sound like a strange definition, particularly in regards to weight loss, so let's examine it a bit more closely.
How could YOUR weight loss cause another person to anticipate losing something important? Actually, in many ways: Your weight loss could threaten the person's
i. "Social standing": A co-worker may believe that she is the best-looking person in the office, and your weight loss threatens to change that.
ii. Employment: People may perceive (sometimes accurately) that your weight loss either threatens his own job or threatens his chances for promotion.
iii. Desirability & Compliments: If you are suddenly being "noticed" by potential romantic partners, that notice may deprive someone else of attention and accolades that she values.
iv. Generally people who are jealous of your weight are best avoided. When this isn't possible, the best strategy is to politely avoid talking to them about your weight loss.
2. Fear of Losing You: This comes from people who truly value you but who, usually because of insecurity, perceive your weight loss as a sign that you are going to "leave them behind". In the case of spouses and romantic interests the fear is that you will meet and fall in love with someone more attractive. With platonic friends, the fear may derive more from your own growing sense of self-esteem and your own assertiveness.
3. Genuine Fear for Your Health: Sometimes people wrongly believe that "heavy is healthy". This is usually a cultural belief that has carried over from older times when people often truly did not have enough to eat. If you have an older grandparent who is always wanting to "fatten you up" with home-cooked meals, this may be the reason. On the other hand, it is also possible to lose too much weight and actually BECOME unhealthy. A pretty sure sign of this is when nearly everyone you know begins suggesting that perhaps you have "lost enough weight". Obviously that is NOT my goal in helping treat your weight.
Strategies for Dealing with Saboteurs:
The approach you should use to handle weight loss saboteurs will depend, above all, upon you, upon your "style" but also will vary depending upon who the saboteur is. Obviously you'll want to handle an obnoxious jealous co-worker differently that someone you deeply love. With these caveats in mind, let's review some strategies that usually work:
1. People you mistrust: Here the goal is to stop the attack entirely. Key to this is to avoiding getting "hooked" into discussing details of your diet, exercise or weight.
a. Avoid the Person: The simple way to stop someone from trying to sabotage your weight loss is to avoid the person.
b. Avoid the Subject: When "a" won't work because you cannot avoid the person (for example at work), then try to avoid talking about your weight loss. There are several ways to do this:
1. "My weight is a personal issue that I don't feel comfortable discussing"-or some variation of this.
2. "I don't like to jinx things by talking about them"
ii. Indirect (Deflection):
1. "I am just watching what I eat."
2. "Thank you, I honestly didn't know that I was losing weight"-while this is a bit dishonest, it has the virtue of completely shutting-down an attack. What can someone say in response to this?
c. Confront the Person: When all else fails, when someone will not stop hounding you over your weight loss, the best and final response may need to be blunt: "It's none of your business"-something like that.
2. People you love: The approach you use in discussing your weight loss with loved-ones will generally be different. Obviously you don't want to "avoid the person" when the person is someone you care about. Here are some tips:
a. Deflect when appropriate: If you prefer not to get into a long discussion about your weight or weight loss, as suggested above, you might try saying something like "I'm just trying to eat better".
b. Respond when appropriate:
i. Concerns about health: When a family member tells you that he or she is worried about appropriate weight loss, sometimes the best strategy is to remind the person that you are losing weight precisely FOR your health. You may want to mention any family history (if it exists) of obesity or obesity related illnesses.
ii. Concerns or opinions about your technique. When loved ones doubt the wisdom of HOW you are losing weight, and when the techniques you are using are appropriate, you may want to try to educate people a little on nutrition and exercise.
iii. Concerns about weight loss medication: This is an issue that arises commonly with patients and their family members in my practice. People often have valid concerns about weight loss medications. People also commonly have irrational concerns. The best advice I can give to you in handling this issue is to remind people that obesity is a medical problem that is not fundamentally different than others, that obesity actually causes diabetes and high blood pressure and that like most diseases, appropriate medications can truly help improve health and prevent other illness.
iv. Concerns about abandonment: When a spouse either tells you that he is threatened by your weight loss or when you sense as much, it's usually best to have a "heart-to-heart" conversation in which you remind him that you are losing weight for yourself, for your own self-esteem and for your health and not because you have suddenly decided to leave him. In orders words, to remind him that this is fundamentally about YOU and not him.
Disclosure of Weight Loss: When, What, How Much and to Whom to Tell
Unless you disclose it, nobody else knows when you start a weight loss program. On the other hand, it's hard to keep weight loss a secret after you have lost fifty pounds. So who should know at the beginning and how much should everyone know later?
The simple answers to these questions are that you should tell early and in detail to people whom you genuinely trust and know will support you. On the other hand, with potential saboteurs, you're usually best saying as little as possible as late as possible.
Weight Loss and Personal Boundaries:
The bottom line to this chapter on weight loss sabotage is that your body and the choices you make about it belong entirely to you. They are nobody else's business.
Unfortunately, many people don't respect privacy and will intrude across the boundary of your privacy to ask about weight loss that is none of their business at all. Worse, they may use the information that they obtain to demoralize or scare you into stopping weight loss. This may be true even for friends and family, even with spouses. The best defense against unwanted or aggressive intrusions into your private weight loss is caution and planning. The goal of this chapter has been to help you plan for the sorts of intrusions and outright sabotage than you may be exposed to during weight loss.